Sunday, March 15, 2020


The real minister (L) and the impersonator (R). photo courtesy Getty Images.
The daring crew of French fraudsters who scammed wealthy victims across Europe of an estimated €80m was sentenced this week in Paris. The gang employed a sophisticated scheme, using silicone masks of prominent officials, and a bogus government office intended to fool wealthy victims into believing that they were deal with the French Minister of Defense, Le Drian, to obtain millions of Euros to ransom French citizens allegedly kidnapped by Middle Eastern terrorists, between 2015 and 2016.

The fraudsters communicated remotely with their victims via Skype video conference,  allegedly emanating from the seat of French Government, to effectively deceive their victims. The "Minister" claimed the French government could not be seen paying ransom, and he was calling upon patriotic Frenchmen to step up and assist in freeing those who were kidnapped by ISIS. Some reports claims that they approached as many as 150 individuals with their scam, and were only successful three times, with their impersonation scheme, but still came away with a huge amount of money.

Known victims included the Turkish businessman, Inan Karac ( $47m), and the Aga Khan (€20m).We have previously described the operation in detail on this blog. When apprehended, evidence was secured that indicated that their next act of deception involved Prince Albert of Monaco.  It has been reported that the gang attempted, without success, to target the President of Gabon, Ali Bongo, King Philippe of Belgium, the Archbishop of Paris, and the CEO of the company Lafarge.

The sentences:
(1) Gilbert Chikli, believed to be the ringleader; eleven years in prison, plus a fine of €2m. It is not his first offense for fraud; he was previously sentenced in absentia to five years in another fraud. 
(2)  Anthony Lasarevitch, the other reputed mastermind; seven years' imprisonment, pls a €1m fine.
(3) Five others received anywhere from suspended sentences to five year's plus €1m fine. One individual is a fugitive from justice.

Did the fraudsters take their inspiration from the television and film series Mission Impossible ? We cannot say, but the case does qualify as one of the most difficult for prosecutors to complete in France, but recent changes in extradition policies in Israel allowed justice to prevaiil.

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